Sudan is a vulnerable giant, Africa's third-largest country by area, at the heart of a volatile region. It has 4,200 miles [over 6,700 kilometers] of land borders with seven other nations, most already grappling with conflict or drought.

Although poor by global standards, Sudan has rich reserves of gold, water and oil, and overlooks one of the busiest shipping lanes on the Red Sea, which makes it a coveted geopolitical prize.

Sudan's war could take many paths, none good. As peace efforts flounder experts and students fear the nation could spiral into a state of anarchy.

The fighting that erupted in Sudan's capital one month ago surprised few, the culmination of soaring tensions between rival military leaders.  But what has shocked many is the scale and ferocity of a conflict that has killed about 1,000 people and prompted one million more to flee their homes.

It could very, very soon get much worse.

As American-led efforts to broker a ceasefire have floundered, Sudan experts, including former government officials and Western diplomats, have taken to their drawing boards to imagine the conflict's trajectory and how bad it could become.

In interviews, they agreed on one thing : The immediate outlook is bleak.

'' We thought through several scenarios,'' said one senior European diplomat, who, like others working to broker a peaceful solution, spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive matters. '' None of them ends well.

The immediate challenge is that the warring factions - Sudan's military, led by Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces, led by Lt.Gen Mohammed Hamdan - still believe that a military victory is possible, regardless of the cost.

Making an appeal for $3 billion in emergency aid, the United Nations said that 25 million Sudanese, more than half the population, need help.

But the greater danger, many warn, is that Sudan's conflict will metastasize into full-blown civil war that not only shatters the country, but also draws in foreign powers looking to back a winner.

The World Students Society thanks author Declan Walsh.


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